Welcome our Veteran Disability Video Blog. Today, we want to talk to you about the VA claims process, more specifically, the veterans appeal process. We see lots of veterans who have gone through filing the claim, and taken, unfortunately, several years to get a decision. And then they are so frustrated that they end up just letting the claim go and not filing the appeal.
Hello, there. I’m Matthew Hill, along with Carol Ponton. And today, we want to talk to you about the VA claims process, more specifically, the veterans appeal process. We see lots of veterans who have gone through filing the claim, and taken, unfortunately, several years to get a decision. And then they are so frustrated that they end up just letting the claim go and not filing the appeal. So just to back up a little bit, what happens when a veteran wants service connected compensation, they file a claim through the VA regional office. And the VA regional office has to process that claim. And again, it can take anywhere from six months, if you’re lucky, up to two years right now to get that claim through. And once that claim is decided, the veteran has the decision. They can accept what it says. Or they can file an appeal. It’s a little bit tricky in that if the veteran is seeking service connected compensation for an issue and they get it service connected, most veterans don’t understand that they can then appeal both the rating and the effective date. So even if it looks like you got what you were asking for, there still could be an appeal. Right, Carol?
It’s right. And one of the things I’m afraid of is I’m afraid that they’re being advised not to appeal. That someone is telling them, you got something? Don’t appeal it. Wait for a year, then file the claim. And that’s so sad. Because basically, they’re doing nothing but losing benefits. Because if they don’t appeal, then their benefits, if they win more, just start after the new claim that they file. So I think that they should realize that they should file. They should appeal always, usually, the rating that they’re given. We find most of the time the ratings are inadequate. They should be much higher. And they should also consider, is this the right date? Should they have started benefits before that? So the one thing that I feel really bad about for the veterans is that they don’t know to appeal. And it’s so easy to appeal. All they have to do is file what’s called, I disagree with the decision that was made, a notice of disagreement. And say, I disagree, and that I want to appeal.
Right. Going back to what Carol said about not appealing, one thing we see a lot, that there just seems to be some misinformation out there amongst veteran service officers. And that they, instead of filing a notice of disagreement, file a reconsideration. There is no such thing under the law as a reconsideration. And it frankly depends on the regional office, whether they process that and issue a new decision, or they consider it appeal. Or they just let it sit there until the appeal period dies. Carol and I tend to see a lot of the last option, where they filed this request for reconsideration. And the appeal dies. Another thing about that as far as filing a new claim for a higher rating, or an earlier effective date, or just filing a new claim again because everything was denied, most of the time, that’s going back to the exact same person who made that previous decision. I don’t see a lot in the way of them changing their minds after they make up their mind.
Right. And so that’s why it’s so important to file the appeal. File a notice of disagreement. Then your case is going to be sent to an appeal person. And they’re called decision review officers. And the decision review officers, while they’re not always, most of the time, they’re better trained than the person that made the initial rating. A lot of times, they know what to look for. And a lot of times, you get a higher rating. But if you don’t just know that you can appeal that, as well, that you should never give up just at the first level and not appeal. It’s so important to figure out, what can you get? We find so many veterans are entitled to 100% disability, but they don’t appeal. Because they don’t understand that they’re entitled to that. You really need to talk to someone that can tell you what you’re entitled to, and why. Yeah. And then once it gets to the decision review officer process, and there’s a denial there or you’re not getting the benefits you want, instead of getting a rating decision, you get a statement of the case, which is typically an incredibly long packet. It can be anywhere from 20 to 60 pages. It’s very dense. There’s a lot of references to statutes and regulations. And it’s pretty hard to understand. But what needs to be understood is that if you don’t agree with that decision, then you only have 60 days from that point to appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals. And we’ve found that you can be rather successful up at the board. Very much so. Because I think at the regional office, on the initial level, people are usually pretty new, it seems like. And they are afraid to make mistakes. People being the people making your decisions. Right. And I think they’re afraid of making a mistake. And so they figure, if I give them the minimum that I know they’re entitled to, then I’m not going to get in trouble. Then you have the decision review officer, who usually will give you more because he understands it better. But they’re not going to go out on what they consider a limb. They’re not going to give you anything they’re not absolutely sure about, where the Board of Veterans Appeals, I feel like they feel more confident in what they can give you and what you’re entitled to. And that’s why you should go there. Once again, it’s not hard to get there. You file, it’s called a VA 9. It’s a form, and you just say, I disagree with. And there’s a place to check to say, I disagree with everything. And I want my case reviewed. And I want a hearing, or I don’t want a hearing. And now I want to appeal, basically. Right. The hardest thing here is the time frames. I mean, we’re talking, if you file an initial claim and you’re going up to the board, you’re probably looking at five years. And it’s hard for a lot of vets to wait that long. They get frustrated. But the further up the chain you get, the more sophisticated the person reviewing your case is. And so we found that by not giving up your appeal, and meanwhile, continuing to get evidence that supports your claim, you get a more sophisticated person reviewing your case. And it seems the chances of winning do go up. They do. And then remember, you’re going to get paid all the way back to when you first filed a claim, if that’s when they find you disabled. And we’ve had lots of veterans that have been given rewards half a million dollars or more. So the benefits are there for you. But the one thing you don’t do is give up. The one thing you don’t do is not appeal your case. And the other thing I would point out is, you have the right to bring in additional evidence. With most of our clients, we find that it’s important to get additional evidence in order to show that they are entitled to these higher ratings. You may not be able to get that through the VA. You’re dealing with VA doctors. And they may be very cautious about what they’re doing. So there’s nothing that prevents you from bringing in your own testimony. The thing you need to know is how to bring it in, how to figure out what it is that the VA is looking for. Yeah. And the more new evidence you bring in, typically, the better. If you have a doc who would be willing to review exams VA gave you, that usually helps your case a lot, as well. But just kind of going back to what we started with, it’s the veterans appeal process and the claims process. It takes a long time. And that typically works against veterans. But our experience has been that if you have a claim you feel has not been determined rightly, your best avenue is to keep up your appeals. That’s right. Appeals are important. The one thing I’d also like to talk about is that you should look at the claims that you have, and realize some of the claims can get you 100%. Other claims don’t entitle you. Like tinnitus, the ringing that veterans have in their ears, the most you can get for that is 10%. Hearing loss. If your hearing loss is profound, then maybe you can get a high rating. But most of the veterans we see, unless they can’t hear me on the phone, are going to get 0% or 10%. So the other thing I encourage people is to look at the claims that you filed, and make sure they’re ones that will bring you a benefit if you win. Yeah. We see vets who file 10, 15, 20 claims. And at that point, you start to lose credibility with your decision maker in that you have a lot of claims. Even if the majority of them are of merit and you want to pursue, as Carol said, it’s typically better to focus on the ones that are actually going to get you the compensation. If you’re at a point where you’re trying to get 100%, or you’re that disabled, that is a particular time to focus on whatever certain big claims you have. Because once you get 100%, you don’t need anything else. Your medical’s covered. Your significant other, spouse is covered. You get dental health care. You don’t need to be filing for all the little claims when you could focus on some of the bigger ones. So this is, again, Mathew Hill and Carol Ponton at Hill and Ponton, just talking about the appeals process and why it is important when you have a claim that has been denied, that you continue with the appeal. And you don’t just file again.